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What Is a Day at The White House Without a GOTR Cape?

Posted Carrie Johnson on 9/27/2016 |


My trip to The White House started with Lanita, my Uber driver who was meant to be in my life that morning. You see, in that twenty minute ride I learned that her husband was killed eight years ago and she was left to raise her two children alone, sometimes working three jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. She loves her Uber job because she has flexibility to start driving at 4 am and then take her son to catch a bus 40 minutes away so he can attend a private boys’ school to play football. He was “discovered” by the football coach there. Lanita continued talking and shared her frustration with those who are dealt similar hands in life, yet do not find the strength within to rise up to do what is right for their families. She has experienced much trauma in her life and I was glad to be a set of ears in her back seat that morning.

It’s amazing how the universe works, Lanita came into my life as we were about to spend a day learning and discussing a topic that touches all of us, Trauma-Informed Approaches in Schools: Supporting Girls of Color and Rethinking Discipline. Those in attendance ranged in expertise, we traveled with leaders from the Pennsylvania State Department of Education, superintendents and leaders from the School District of Lancaster and Philadelphia... and, Girls on the Run. We were in good company with 19 other states. One of our board members invited Girls on the Run of Lancaster to attend because as she read about this summit and knew that GOTR is the organization that partners with School District of Lancaster and this population most deeply. She clearly sees our curriculum and program as a tool to promote change amongst girls of color who have experienced adverse childhood experiences.

A panel of five brave high school girls who have experienced trauma and more than four Adverse Childhood Experiences, many repeatedly since early childhood, took the stage and shared pieces of their stories. I felt sad, angry and hopeful all at once, because these girls need someone to give them hope, to help them open doors and to love them, which is what we do at Girls on the Run and how we train our coaches. When the girls were asked what the 300 adults in the room can do to change things, their answers were: “community is most important, even having just one person you trust to help you is key”, “let kids be themselves and get to know them”, “listen, really listen”, “our behaviors are not who we are”, “share your true selves with us” and “love us”. I remember one Saturday morning about four years ago when Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker was in town for a function with our girls and we invited all of our coaches to join us for coffee and bagels in a class room. The loudest message Molly shared that day was to love these girls, simply love them.

Amongst all of the policy, rules, regulations and testing that take the time of our teachers, we wondered out loud at the summit about ways to build in time for self-care for our teachers. How can they be available to students and serve as a buffer to the adversity their students live in each day, otherwise? For all of the young ladies on the panel, it was one specific teacher who took the time to love her, trust her, and listen to her who then gave her the guidance she needed. The power of just one positive relationship is the key to healing.    

It was so very validating to know that our mission is significantly impacting this population of girls and all girls who participate in Girls on the Run and Heart & Sole. How can we deepen our influence with our girls? Love them, ask them about their stories, listen deeply, be intentional in our actions and aware of our girls’ communication (verbal and non-verbal), and develop relationships as coaches with these girls that change their lives. Our focus on access and inclusion at GOTR is so very timely!

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, MD and CEO/founder of Center for Youth Wellness has a powerful TED talk about the topic and left us with this quote last Monday: “Our children are not broken, the environment they are in is.”

So, let’s keep opening doors, listening and loving these girls! As staff members we do not know every girl in our program, but our coaches do, and that is where the magic happens, in those trusting and close relationships. Finish reading this by knowing we are changing lives and it truly happens one girl at a time. 

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